Saints have always declared themselves as abject sinners—through recognition that their aspiration to be saintly is motivated by the worst of all sins, spiritual pride, the desire to admire oneself as a supreme success in the art of love and unselfishness. And beneath this lies a bottomless pit of vicious circles: the game, “I am more penitent that you” or “My pride in my humility is worse than yours.” Is there any way not to be involved in some kind of one-upmanship? “I am less of a one-upman than you.” “I am a worse one-upman than you.” “I realize more clearly than you that everything we do is one-upmanship.” The ego-trick seems to reaffirm itself endlessly in posture after posture. But as I pursue these games—as I become more conscious of being conscious, more aware that I am unable to define myself as being up without you (or something other than myself) being down—I see vividly that I depend on your being down for my being up. I would never be able to know that I belong to the in-group of “nice” or “saved” people without the assistance of an out-group of “nasty” or “damned” people. How can any in-group maintain its collective ego without relishing dinner-table discussions about the ghastly conduct of outsiders? The very identity of racist Southerners depends upon contrasting themselves with those dirty black “nigras.” But, conversely, the out-groups feel that they are really and truly “in,” and nourish their collective ego with relishingly indignant conversation about squares, Ofays, Wasps, Philistines, and the blasted bourgeoisie. Even Saint Thomas Aquinas let it out that part of the blessedness of the saints in Heaven was that they could look over the battlements and enjoy the “proper justice” of the sinners squirming in Hell. All winners need losers; all saints need sinners; all sages need fools—that is, so long as the major kick in life is to “amount to something” or to “be someone” as a particular and separate godlet.

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A quote saved on Dec. 30, 2015.


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